Last month witnessed the sad passing of Frans Jozef van Beeck, SJ, an influential and beloved member of the Boston College community during his tenure here as professor of theology from 1968 until 1986.
Father van Beeck hailed from the Netherlands, where he entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1948 and became a priest in 1962. There he also embarked on his graduate studies: first in philosophy, then a doctorate in comparative English & Italian literature from the University of Amsterdam and, lastly, he completed the S.T.L. degree in theology from the Canisianum Maastricht. In 1968, he was called to Boston College where he taught systematic and liturgical theology. Father van Beeck also distinguished himself as a violinist; and his theology was unique for its integration of the literary and aesthetic themes that were such a part of his life and intellectual pilgrimage.
While at Boston College, Father van Beeck developed into a noted theologian in a number of ways: his study of the foundational rhetorical dimension to Christology—the understanding of Jesus’ role in Christian faith and experience—in his book Christ Proclaimed garnered the praise of the great continental philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. Father van Beeck was also recognized for his sustained ecumenical engagements with prominent Protestant theology & Jewish thought and as someone whose theology animated his lived experience, liturgical leadership and pastoral ministry. These achievements convinced Loyola University Chicago to offer him the John Cardinal Cody Chair in Theology, which led him away from Boston College when he took up that Chair in 1986.
Van Beeck is most especially known for his audacious, multi-volume work God Encountered: A Contemporary Catholic Systematic Theology, which remained unfinished at the time of his death at 6 volumes. In God Encountered, Father van Beeck uniquely orchestrated Christian systematic theology around the foundational theme of worship, the encounter with God in the life of the community, as that is witnessed across the generations by the Great Tradition.
The John J. Burns Library houses a collection of personal and theological papers of Frans Jozef van Beeck, including early typescript drafts and emendations of God Encountered and manuscript lecture notes for his classes in systematic theology. These present a wealth of resources for understanding the life and mind of this great theologian and the development of his theological positions and judgments.
In the first image appearing in this blog post, you see a manuscript from his lecture notes to systematic theology from 1981-1982, in which Fr. van Beeck anticipates many of the crucial themes of his God Encountered as he attempts to explain the reciprocal interrelationship of sacrament—word—ethics or cult—creed—conduct as elemental contours of the Christian experience, with an emphasis on encountering God in the worship life of the community.
This last image in the blog post, dated 24 September 1981, comes from his lecture notes to systematic theology, in which Fr. van Beeck attempts to grapple with a problem in fundamental theology, another one of his sustained concerns: the question of whether the Christian understanding that we indeed do encounter God is more than just a projection of our desires.
- James Daryn Henry, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Theology